Interview: Chris Early on Ubisoft’s Social Game Strategy for 2012

Yesterday, Ubisoft unveiled three new social games based on TV shows in addition to announcing a fourth project with social game developer Loot Drop. Here, we interview Ubisoft VP of Digital Publishing Chris Early on the French video game publisher’s broader social strategy in the next year.

Inside Social Games: You’ve announced three new games based on TV show brands — CSI: Miami, NCIS: Major Crimes, and House, M.D.: Critical Cases. Have you bet big on TV social games because of the past success of CSI: Crime City or because other companies are also entering this genre of game on Facebook?

Chris Early, Ubisoft VP of Digital Publishing: We saw the power of how CSI performed for us. We saw that again with Smurfs, but even long before that we were engaged in signing a bunch of brands because brands are good for us. People know and recognize brands, so it helps with acquisition — you see on Facebook The Smurfs & Co. and “Little Blue Person Village” and which one are you going to play?

ISG: Help us understand how the licensing process works for Facebook games based on TV shows. We know that CSI: Miami is licensed by CBS — but CBS also licenses The Vampire Diaries to Warner Bros. Interactive, which recently launched a game based on the show for Facebook.

Early: I’m sure NBC Universal or CBS has a variety of things that they’re going to license out to different people. The good news for us that we’ve been developing games for licenses for years. We have a reputation for making that kind of IP, and we’ve been a licensee for CSI for almost 10 years now. So for [CBS], it makes sense to talk to us [about CSI], but if we said we weren’t interested, they could easily go and find someone else because their job is to get the most out of their brands.

ISG: How much of the development on your TV games is being done in house?

Early: We do about 40% of all our social development externally. We just announced Loot Drop as a partner on an undisclosed title. We did Area Code with CSI: Crime City — and then they got acquired. Smurfs was internal for us. CSI: Miami is also being developed internally [by Ubisoft Shanghai and Ubisoft San Francisco].

Editor’s Note: The press release announcing Ubisoft’s new TV games also names Method as a developer, but does not indicate to which games the independent studio is assigned.

ISG: What about your newest companion Facebook game, Ghost Recon Commander? Is that also being done exclusively in-house?

Early: The console game is being done internally both in Paris and at Red Storm in North Carolina studios. Ghost Recon Online is being worked on in our Singapore studio and Ghost Recon Commander is being worked on out of [the San Francisco] office.

ISG: So all of these games are being made internally with 40% influence from an outside developer…?

Early: It’s really a mix. Especially on Commander and House and on our other Facebook titles we haven’t announced yet, we’re not talking about who worked on those [outside of Ubisoft] until the release gets closer.

Editor’s Note: The implication here is that these unnamed developers might be acquired by a competitor if Ubisoft draws attention to them — much like Area Code was bought by Zynga four months after launching CSI: Crime City with Ubisoft.

ISG: A couple of months ago, you talked with us about the deeper level of content unlocks and integration between this game and its console and PC siblings. You had hinted at a mechanic where Ghost Recon Commander players on Facebook could somehow contribute content unlocks or bonuses to their friends that play Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on consoles — without themselves having to play the console game. Is that feature a reality or just an idea?